COP 26 was a battleground where these two opposite visions of the future met face to face. There were two weeks of almost febrile negotiations and discussions, propelled by the understanding that time to act was running short, and a catastrophe for humanity was just around the corner.
Although almost every country improved their previous commitments, the global response was frustrating and insufficient. The world is NOT on track to reduce emissions by 50% by 2030 nor to reach net zero emissions by 2050, as agreed in Paris 2015. The tone of the final declaration – signed by 196 countries – was not as originally drafted. India and China pushed for a weakened statement.
COP26 dealt with two core areas: Adaptation and Mitigation. Tough, hard, difficult decisions were delayed in both areas. No victory, but also no defeat in Glasgow.
Adaptation means preparing societies and economies to manage risk and minimise damage. It is sort of a scaled up, long-term Disaster Preparedness or Disaster Risk Reduction strategy. Adaptation includes, for example, building flood defences, developing drought resistant crops, promoting resilient communities, creating systems to protect those at risk, or weather-proofing communications systems.
The question at COP26 was who pays for the adaptation? . The 2015 Paris Agreement made a strong distinction between developed and developing nations. It called for climate equity , spelling out the principle that developed nations – the main producers of global warming – had to finance the cost of adaptation for developing countries.
In 2009 it was agreed that by 2020 100 billion USD would be provided to cover the cost of adaptation in developing countries. This commitment was far from fulfilled, and its further consideration was postponed until the COP28 meeting in the UAE in 2023, when 200 billion USD a year would be made available to finance adaptation in affected countries. But many details need to be unpacked before this can happen.
Mitigation, on the other hand, is at the core of climate action and there were some positive steps in Glasgow. 130 countries across the globe committed to end and reverse deforestation, along with cutting methane emissions by 30% by the year 2030. Each country presented its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDCs), which is the expression of their commitment to reduce emissions and step-up adaptation.
A further problem is that the NDCs are non-binding, and their implementation is left to each country. Everyone and no-one is responsible.
This is perhaps the biggest mountain to climb: What needs to happen to ensure that NDCs are relevant and implemented? How do we make the NDCs binding? This would require:
a) a global agreement at UN level
b) an empowered global monitoring – and sanctioning – organism
c) a country-based monitoring capacity with strong engagement of civil society, capable of making governments and corporates to account
So, is humanity doomed or are there grounds to be optimistic?
Is it all doom and gloom? Can we afford not to be optimistic? Would David have run away from fighting mighty Goliath?
There are grounds to be slightly optimistic
- There is a humongous expansion of awareness that the planet is reaching a tipping point of irreversibility and that meaningful climate action is needed. COP26 highlighted that the next decade will be crucial.
- The NDCs presented were clearly insufficient, in adaptation and mitigation. Everyone was clear that there was no time to waste. Rather than waiting another five years for a similar summit, it was agreed to have yearly summits. All countries will have to present their revised emissions targets in 2022, at COP27, in Egypt. Much more detail will be demanded on NDCs.
- Technological developments are making renewable energy increasingly cost-effective. This is a field of rapid expansion. In the coming years it is expected that storage, and loss-less transmission of energy will further help reduce emissions.
- Climate change is becoming part of the agenda of governments and political parties in most countries. Intensified and sudden, extreme weather events are evidence that climate change is happening. The prioritisation by governments is a result of the growth in movements and organisations from civil society, faith organisations, communities, and political parties that are advocating, demanding, fighting for climate action
- The agreements on Methane and reforestation reached in Glasgow indicate a willingness to act that was not present one year ago.
- COP28 will be held in Abu Dhabi (UAE) in 2023 and will focus on adaptation and on meeting the financial commitments to support the most affected countries. But more of the developed countries will have to show the money needed by countries at risk.
What does this mean for older people and their organisations?
Although climate action defies generational boundaries, there are specific issues that can have a distinct impact on older people and their organisations.
At global levels, we must:
- Dispel the view that older generations are indifferent, or even opposed, to climate action
- Broadly communicate – shouting in all directions – the peculiarities of older people, as being both disproportionately affected on the one hand, and a huge resource of wisdom, capacity, and will-power in climate action on the other (?)
- Better understand and act on the connections and intersections between population ageing and climate change:
- Economic behaviours, including patterns of consumption, food behaviours, use of energy, transport of ageing populations, analysing ways of promoting climate friendly consumption and use of energy
- Economic power and climate friendly use of disposable income
- Influencing the disinvestment in fossil fuel industries of the pension funds
At national levels, we can:
- Understand our country s Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and advocate (mobilise) for their improvement, actively monitoring their implementation, especially in large emission countries
- Work with older and younger people who are engaged in the environmental protection and climate action movements, encouraging collaborative approaches with other organisations
- Promote older people s engagement in community environmental protection and global warming-related activities
- Actively engage in adaptation efforts to minimise negative impact of global warming and extreme weather events, ensuring older people are in the scope of all preventative actions
By Eduardo Klien, Regional Representative, Asia Pacific